Q. Now that fall is here, I have started making more soups. I have always wondered about the differences between the white beans. Cannellini, Great Northern, Navy, and Butter beans. Can I use them interchangeably? Or are each better suited for a specific purpose.
A. Cannellini beans are large and have that traditional kidney shape. With a slightly nutty taste and mild earthiness, they have a relatively thin skin and tender, creamy flesh. They hold their shape well and are one of the best white beans for salads and ragouts.
Great Northern beans are smaller than cannellinis and are suitable for any number of uses: salads, soups, stews, ragouts, purees. Their texture is slightly grainy, with a nutty, dense flavor. Popular in North America, Great Northerns look like white baby lima beans.
Navy beans are small and oval and cook relatively quickly which have made them popular with commercial baked bean manufacturers. Known as Boston beans, the white coco, pea beans or alubias chicas, Navy beans are perfect for dishes that don’t need the full bean shape to shine: purees, soups, stews and baked beans.
Butter Beans, also known as lima beans, have a starchy yet buttery texture that complements a wide variety of dishes. Butter or lima beans can be used in various types of recipes where ingredients are boiled, baked or microwaved. Dried forms will need to be soaked at least six hours or overnight before using. They also mix well with other vegetables for casseroles and soups.
It’s great to know the differences between the three and it’s worth paying more attention to them when you’re using dried beans. Truthfully though, when a recipe calls for white beans, you can use any of them interchangeably. Use whichever you can get your hands on, or prefer. Any way you choose, you’ll be making a fiber-and-protein-filled choice!
Try one your hand at Greens and Beans Soup. Combine 8 ounces dried white beans (any variety), 8 cups broth, 4 cups water, 1 tablespoon oil, 4 cloves garlic, salt, pepper, and a bunch of your favorite greens (kale, swiss chard, spinach, escarole). Cook on low in a slow cooker for 6-8 hours. Top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Enjoy!